Editorial: Labour’s Insurgent Electoral Campaign

by | 8 Jun 2017

Whatever happens in today’s election in the UK, Corbyn’s campaign has been a success. Not in generations has there been an insurgent electoral campaign from the Labour party. By this we mean a campaign that faced down almost universal media antipathy (even hatred) but sought to turn Labor’s unpopularity with the establishment against the establishment itself. Because that is what Corbyn and Milne and the whole team have done. They have insisted that the establishment rejection of the Labour party under Corbyn is nothing more than an elite protecting its own interests. In this Labour have performatively revealed the political reality of even the most (apparently) liberal of media sources.

At the outset one of the BBC commentators asked whether we had ever (in the last century) seen such ‘class war’ rhetoric emanating from an opposition leader. But despite the BBC’s initial attempts to spin the campaign as the ‘politics of envy’, Labour essentially ran on Care, Concern… fuck it… even Love! And not the transactional love of neoliberalism, but common project for a different, less cruel state. One that provides universal care, education, healthcare.

Given the way the Tories ran their campaign, it was incredible that Corbyn and his team never stooped to name calling, insults and untruths. There were no dirty tricks. And whats more, unlike the Miliband campaign, they didn’t go around telling everyone that they were not going to stoop to the lows of the Conservatives and their media. This placed the Tory campaign and its media into stark relief.

We know the Tories and Blairites (or worse) will crow that May was an historically weak candidate, that the Tory campaign was terrible, etc. They imagine that if a Miliband, Cooper or Khan had run they would have been able to capitalise on May’s failures and the surge in support for labour. This misses three important but fairly obvious points.

  1. Do you remember the days when strong and stable wasn’t a joke? When this was definitely going to be a simple coronation? If Corbyn had not been perceived as weak the election would not have been called, and the Tory Manifesto would not have been so half-arsed and ill-conceived. The Tories would have thought differently about the election. This is important to remember because the way labour wrong-footed May in the early days of the election (from the leak of the Manifesto onwards) established the narrative of a weak and wobbly leader. An insurgent campaign must come from behind, gathering momentum and supporters. It must bring energy and excitement. This is important because if Corbyn or another left Labourite leads us into the next election, we cannot simply rely upon the same dynamics.
  2. If the Labour manifesto had not been so radical (by which we mean fairly bog-standard social democratic) the 3 million people that have moved towards Labour during the election may not have done so. No doubt labour would have started higher in the polls, but we know that neither Brown’s boring-Blairism and Milliband’s wonkish-center-leftism have convinced the electorate. Instead they delivered vicious Conservative governments. We’re no fan of counter-factuals, but be careful particularly with the Blairite utopias that will be peddled in the coming days.
  3. And most importantly, the usual Tory attack lines of immigration, security, economic instability and the untrustworthiness of labour would ALL have stuck – as they did with Milliband and Brown. Because Corbyn offered a very different politics, the Tory attempts to play the race card failed, for instance. Not because everyone who reads the Guardian complained as happened in 2010/5, but because Labour ignored Tory headlines and ploughed on with providing a different (altogether more credible) solution to the same problems.

It is essential to see that the Tories ran a very similar campaign as last time around. If you look at the attacks they made and the way they tried to shape the narrative, you see a classic Crosby campaign. It’s not that he ran a radically different campaign. It’s that Labour have neutralised the worst excesses of this type of electioneering. And they have done it by refusing to bow to the media, by allowing them to demonstrate their own bias for all to see, and by giving leftwing ideas on how to do politics.

Win, lose or draw today, the left can hold our heads high. We suggest that we need to profess our politics from the highest places. We need to support all of the new media outlets that have been cropping up. Those who had any faith in the Guardian and Independent need to rethink it, rethink their membership, rethink which (if any) newspapers they buy. We need to take part in Momentum (which has shown its genius) and the party. We need to reach out to friends in other leftwing parties, from the Greens to the SNP and Plaid Cymru.

We know lots of people are going to say this over the coming days. But genuinely, the struggle starts now. The question – irrespective of whether Labour is in government or in opposition, is how do we make sure that it stays the course. Because our time will come. Thats what we’ve learned from this insurgent Labour electoral campaign.

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